Aging, Reflections, Retirement, Self Care, travel

The Year of Me

Today is my 55th birthday and I have been spending it doing some of my favorite things – shopping at the Farmers’ Market, a beautiful ocean swim with new friends, stocking the freezer with homemade pesto to enjoy when basil season is long gone, a chat with my sister, a short nap, and tonight a dinner by the water with Don.

As is my tradition, I’ve also been reflecting on the year past and what a wild ride of a year it was!  On the high side it included a  lot of fun and exciting travel (Greece, Puerto Vallarta, Hawaii, the East Coast, Alaska), many visits from far-flung family and friends, completion of several long-awaited home improvements, my foray into open water swimming, and of course my retirement.  But it also included the challenges of Don’s cognitive impairment (and likely Alzheimer’s diagnosis) and the stress, anxiety, fear, and grief that has wracked both of us and really affected our relationship.  And while I am loving being retired, my schedule still seems way too full, I have commitments that I wish I had not made, and I feel the weight of being a care partner for Don and the burden of responsibility that has brought.

So this year my promise to myself is that as much as I can given Don’s health, I will make this year the year of me, and of us.  That means making sure I do the things that bring me joy, making sure Don and I do fun things together, getting enough rest, eating less junk, and letting go of commitments and obligations that get in the way of the above.  So –

  • No more volunteering unless I can do it without making a commitment that will feel burdensome.
  • Just because something (an exercise class, or writing a blog post for example) is on my calendar or to do list it doesn’t mean I have to do it.
  • If I want to sleep in and defer the dog’s “long” walk to later in the day, I will.
  • When I need time and space to myself I will tell Don, and trust that his feelings will not be hurt.
  • I will treat myself  – to massages, naps, dark chocolate, beach days, and the occasional doughnut – and not feel guilty about it.
  • I will make time to meditate, but not make it just another thing on my to do list.
  • I will not be afraid to dip into savings in order to take trips that I have long dreamed about.
  • I will invest in counselling to help both Don and me navigate the shoals we find ourselves in.
  • I will spend time with people who lift me up, and walk away from those whose negative energy drags me down.

In short, I will give myself the gift of a year, knowing that whatever challenges come up the next twelve months will likely be as good as it gets in terms of Don’s health and abilities and I will do my best not to fritter them away.

L’chaim!

 

Mild Cognitive Impairment, Retirement, Stress and Anxiety, travel

R&R

It’s been weeks since I’ve posted, mostly because life has been crazy busy. Even though the demands of my job are diminishing as I head towards retirement, hand over more to staff, and back away from job-related community and professional commitments, I feel like I am constantly juggling work, medical appointments (mostly Don’s), everything that goes into managing our household, and making time for exercise and time with friends….always feeling like something is about to come crashing down

I hadn’t realized how much it all has been wearing on me, and how my weariness and stress have been affecting Don, until the past 10 days, which we have spent in Hawaii. The first week we were at our favorite beachside resort on the Big Island with absolutely nothing on the agenda. We slept in every day, lounged on the beach and swam in the ocean every morning, had siestas every afternoon, made love, and spent time each evening on the lanai of our room listening to the waves. Apart from one day when we drove around the island, and a couple of evenings listening to a favorite slack key artist, we didn’t stir from the resort.

The last few days we’ve been in Honolulu, and while it hasn’t been quite as restful we enjoyed a drive up to the North Shore, caught up with good friends, and enjoyed sunset mai tais and some great Hawaiian music each evening.

Most importantly, we just enjoyed each other’s company. We laughed a lot, and had more, and more meaningful, conversations than we’ve had in a long time.

It wasn’t all nirvana as I did check work email, and one of our cars also died just before we left, so I did spend some time researching replacements and communicating with dealers, but it was the longest stretch of unstructured time that we have had in years. Even our vacations in recent years have been of the adventure travel or sightseeing in new places variety…restorative in their own way, but not deeply restful like this trip has been.

I could see the positive effects in both of us. I was not stress eating, and despite the general lack of exercise and the mai tais I think I actually lost a couple of pounds. Don’s cognitive issues and me pry glitches didn’t disappear, but we both were more able to take them in stride without getting anxious or upset, and as a result some things actually were better.

By the end of the trip he was reading a real book after quite a long period where he has had trouble focusing on longer written pieces. He was able to navigate his way to and from restrooms in airports and restaurants without getting disoriented the way he had on other recent trips…and when he did get a little turned around he was able to stop, not panic, and reorient himself. He drove the cars we rented, and although he was a little nervous and commented that it felt different he did just fine. We just finished a game of Ipad Scrabble on the plane trip home, our first in a year or more, and he was noticeably more patient, used more complex words and configurations, and didn’t get “stuck” the way he did the last time we played.

While we obviously can’t be on permanent vacation, and even after I retire we will have exercise classes, doctor’s appointments, and social commitments on our calendar I think being free of the 40+ hours that my job consumes in a good week (and not infrequently 50-60 hours or more), not to mention being free of the work stress, is going to make a huge difference in our relationship and well-being.

I’m also going to make sure we have plenty of unstructured time…weekly “sabbath” days, short get aways where we just chill, and at least one long beach vacation to Hawaii or somewhere similar each year.

Now we just need to get through the next seven weeks until I retire – weeks that are already filled with appointments, retirement parties, and extended visits from family…

Aging, Mild Cognitive Impairment, swimming, travel

Whales, dolphins…and angels

We just got back from a long weekend in Puerto Vallarta.  It had been more than 10 years since we were last there, and we had forgotten how much we like it.  This time we stayed a block from Los Muertos beach, walking distance from all of the city sights and in the thick of the action.  We loved the vibrancy, the color, watching the local families crowd the beach on what was for them a holiday weekend, and the food.  We ate lots of street tacos and several meals with our feet in the sand, drank far too many margaritas, took the water taxi to the little beach town of Yelapa, and saw some spectacular sunsets.

On Monday we took a 1/2 day whale watching trip with Wildlife Connection – a small, biologist-run outfit that takes people out in zodiacs so you can get really close to the whales.  It was a blast watching the humpbacks frolicking in Banderas Bay.  We got some amazing photos, but I think this is my favorite:

 

The next day we went out with Wildlife Connection again, this time to find dolphins with the hope of swimming with them in the wild.  One of the biologists studied a particular pod of dolphins for her Master’s thesis, and they became friendly with her and will often swim up to people.  We found the pod, and I volunteered to jump in first along with another man since Don did not want to go in.  A couple of dolphins swam right up to me and circled around, one of them so close it nearly brushed against me.  In just a few seconds they were gone, but the experience will stay with me for a lifetime.

It all happened so fast that it was hard to get a picture, but Don managed to capture it in the last second of a video he took with his iPhone, and I was able to extract this very blurry image from there.  That is me in the  back with a dolphin swimming right in front of me.

Image may contain: ocean, outdoor, water and nature

Unfortunately for the people who went in the water after me, the dolphins became more interested in surfing the wake and in teasing people by swimming towards them and then flashing past, so no one else got such an up close and personal experience.  I feel truly blessed.

I also feel blessed that Don and I got to spend such a fun time together, “making memories” as my grandmother always used to say.  These times together are becoming even more precious as we face his aging process and the cognitive challenges it has brought.

The trip could have ended badly as Don wandered out of the VIP Lounge at the airport and found himself on the wrong side of security without his passport or boarding pass.  He had left to go to the restroom, which he didn’t realize was inside the lounge, and then got disoriented and lost.  I started to worry when he didn’t return, and tried checking the restrooms both inside and out of the lounge.  One of the waiters in the lounge saw my distress and was about to go out and search with me when I got a call from Don on my cell phone and he told me where he was.  The waiter told me he would watch our stuff while I went and retrieved Don, and then when we returned was so solicitous, bringing us bottled water to take on the airplane, and checking every few minutes to make sure Don was ok.  I tried to find him to thank him when we left to catch our plane, but didn’t see him.  A few minutes later he came hurrying up the departure hall to say goodbye to us.  He was a lovely, kind man who went above and beyond to help us…an angel when I really needed one.

 

Letting Go, Reflections, travel

Keeping the “Greek Magic” alive

We got back from Greece on Friday evening after a 3:30 am wake up call, nearly 24 hours of travel from door to door, and a Zurich airport adventure tracking down a carry on bag we accidentally left on the plane from Athens.  We did get the bag back, but it took 5,000 steps, four trips through passport control, and a $50 fee to do it!  Jet lag has us waking up in the wee small hours of the morning, but other than that it has been a pretty smooth transition back to the reality of our daily lives.

It was a great trip and a wonderful experience.  We saw beautiful places, enjoyed delicious food, and had a nice mix of group tours and time on our own, and of activities and down time.  Most importantly we reconnected and rekindled the loving relationship that had gotten buried in the stress and anxiety of all of the challenges and changes in our lives.  Don’s physical and cognitive symptoms even noticeably improved while we were away.

We’ve been talking about how we can keep this “Greek magic” alive now that we are home.

Managing stress is certainly one important factor, as was having the time and space to really talk, but I also think that I can take some of the credit for managing my own expectations and reactions.  When Don puts something away in the wrong place, or misplaces something, or asks the same question five times in the space of 30 minutes I’ve been working hard on just taking a deep breath and letting it go rather than correcting him, or nagging him, or getting exasperated.  It takes just seconds to move something to the right spot, or two answer a question, and usually the thing that is misplaced is just as easily replaced if we really can’t find it.

I’ve also been working on receiving his love when he demonstrates it in the ways that are natural and meaningful for him.  Instead of expecting him to show me love in the way I would do it and getting upset when he doesn’t, I try to remember that just because he doesn’t always show love in the ways that I want (like giving me gifts) doesn’t make it any less heartfelt.

The result is that he is less anxious,  I am less on edge, and we both feel more loved and more loving.

All of this was relatively easy for me when we were in the vacation bubble, but the trick will be keeping it up when I am stressed out by work, too many commitments, and not enough alone time or down time – especially as we head into the crazy holiday season.

This morning during my jog I listened to one of my favorite songs by one of my favorite artists – Between Heaven and Here by Kris Kristofferson and realized that it could have been written for me.  It has some great lines that go to the heart of the changes I need to sustain if I want our Greek magic to continue – I think half my battle to stop “wasting my feelings on something that so little matters” and the other half is remembering that “Maybe the secret is making believe when it matters.”  I’m going to listen to the song daily to remind me what I need to do…

Enjoy!

 

 

 

Reflections, travel

Greek Magic

We are 2/3 of the way through our Greek vacation, and despite my intent to post every couple of days there has not been time.

We were surprisingly unjetlagged in the wee small hours of Wednesday morning despite travelling more than 20 hours thanks in no small part to the nearly lie flat business class seats that we were able to get with points.  No such luck on the way home, though  – we’ll be back to our usual economy class.

We walked about 10 miles on Wednesday seeing the sites of Athens, did a two day tour to Delphi and the Meteora monasteries, came back to Athens for another day of sightseeing, and are now relaxing at the end of our 2nd day on Mykonos.  Tomorrow we head off for a couple of days on Santorini and then start the long trek home via another night in Athens.

Don has been a trouper, walking all over the uneven stones and climbing endless stairs despite achilles tendinitis and the challenges of an ever-shortening gait and blurred vision in one eye that affects his depth perception.  (The shortened gait is one of a constellation of symptoms that we will be seeing a neurologist about, but that is a story for another time.)

In between we’ve had some of the most honest conversations we’ve had in years, including one about his age and health issues and how they might affect future travel,  seen incredible sites and scenery, eaten amazing food in some very romantic locations, and just enjoyed the time together.

Now we need to figure out how to bring some of the magic back to our ordinary lives as we face the stresses and challenges ahead.

Gratitude, Reflections, travel

Gliding into vacation

Don and I are getting ready to head off on a long-awaited trip to Greece this afternoon, celebrating our 30th wedding anniversary and his 75th birthday.  After 30 years of marriage we know that the lead-up to a big trip can be a bit rocky as my obsession with checklists and detailed plans kicks into high gear and his anxieties flare up, but we have (mostly) learned to manage,  Once we are on our way our better selves (usually) reappear and we thrive on the adventure of seeing new places and the relief of being away from our day-to-day routines, responsibilities, and stresses.

This time the lead up to our trip has been different, and much more pleasant.  My sister and her husband arrived from Canada on Friday evening.  They’ll be using our home as their vacation home for most of the time that we are away, and we’ve enjoyed spending time with them this “overlap weekend.”

For the first time that I can remember I am heading off on a big trip almost totally relaxed.  Usually our guest room is packing central and the bed is covered with suitcases and clothes until right before departure, but this time I had to get everything packed up before our visitors arrived so I could stash the closed up bags in our home office.  While I did do a little bit of shifting things from bag to bag over the past couple of days, having everything pretty much packed and ready to go meant I could really relax in the lead up to the trip.

And a relaxing few days it has been!

Friday night we tried out a new, very good Mexican restaurant after picking my sister and brother-in-law up from the airport.  Saturday afternoon my sister and I enjoyed a spa day and massages at a local day spa thanks to the gift cards I had been accumulating for many months, while my brother-in-law and Don checked out a classic car show and then had massages at the franchise place where we are members.  Then we walked down to the ocean and saw an amazing sunset before a nice dinner at home.

Yesterday morning, and again this morning, it was beach time.  We live only 3 1/2 blocks from the ocean and we walk the dog along the Esplanade above the beach every weekday morning and once or twice a week in the evening for sunset, but we don’t get down to the beach itself anywhere near as often as I would like.  I am a water baby, and being in the ocean truly washes all of my cares away.

The past couple of days have been spectacular beach days.  The air is a warm, and the water is a cool but refreshing 67 degrees.  Mornings are my favorite time at the beach because the winds are calm, with no wind chop on the ocean and little of the accompanying kelp and murkiness.  There has also been no surf, so the water was crystal clear.

Swimming is my go to exercise – I love the feel of the water, the way my body stretches as I move, and the opportunity to let my mind wander without distractions.  I swim laps in the pool at our gym several times a week, but my true joy is swimming in the ocean.

So it was a real blessing to be able to swim out to the buoy both of the last two mornings, clearing my head and getting my heart pumping.  Both days I saw plenty of fish, and this morning I also saw a school of about two dozen stingrays gliding along beside me – just awesome!

So I head off for our trip relaxed and refreshed…and thinking that I need to plan a “glide path” like this before every trip.